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  • Credit: Nhi Casey
06/05/2013 13:06:31

Senior Spotlight: Mason Freedman

Two Wins for the Ages

Caltech's class of 2013 is a group of passionate, curious, and creative individuals who have spent their undergraduate years advancing research and challenging both conventional thinking and one another. They have thrived in a rigorous, unique academic environment, building the kinds of skills in both leadership and partnership that will support them as they pursue their biggest and best ideas.

Over the next few weeks, the stories of just a few of these remarkable graduates will be featured here. Watch as they and their peers are honored at Caltech's 119th commencement on June 14 at 10 a.m. If you can't be in Pasadena, the ceremony will be live-streamed at http://www.ustream.tv/caltech.

As a baseball and basketball player at Caltech, senior Mason Freedman has played in 11 winning games over his entire NCAA career. That's not very many victories, but two of them—well, they made history.

Those two wins, of course, were the ones that broke Caltech's 228-game losing streak in baseball—dating back 10 years—and the 310-conference-game losing streak in basketball, which stretched back 26 years. Freedman, a mechanical engineering major, is the only player to have played in both games.

He first participated in a streak-breaking win as a shooting guard for the basketball team. After decades of losing, the team started the 2010–2011 season with promise. The team won four nonconference games, including a one-point thriller over UC Santa Cruz. In conference play, they were competitive—which hadn't always been the case in previous years. In 9 of their 13 conference losses, the margin was by only 10 points or fewer.

"The entire season we were on edge," Freedman recalls. Unlike past years, fans crowded into the gym in anticipation of a win, growing in numbers as the season progressed. There were half-time contests (winners received a basketball signed by all five of the campus's Nobel laureates) and even a pep band.

Finally, in the last game of the season, the Beavers eked out a one-point win over Occidental College when then-senior Ryan Elmquist made a free throw in the waning seconds. Fans stormed the court, and the team doused head coach Oliver Eslinger with water. "It was building the entire time throughout the season," Freedman says. "By the end, it was a release: finally, we made it. We had been knocking on the door, and here we were."

Freedman left the basketball team the following season to devote more time to the baseball team as a pitcher and infielder. Little did he know this team would also make history. The team was playing Pacifica University in the first of a doubleheader last February during the 2012–2013 season. "In the beginning, we were playing well," says Freedman. "We were sticking with them, and the lead changed a couple of times." They were up 9–7, and the next thing he knew, the last out was made and Beaver baseball had notched a win for the first time since 2003. "I wasn't expecting it," he says. "The team was still a little rough around the edges, but we managed to pull together a win."

The Los Angeles Times's Bill Plaschke devoted a column on February 10 to Freedman and his somewhat notorious status of having played in two such record-breaking games. "It was a little surreal," Freedman says of being singled out in such a high-profile way. Besides, he was just one player in two team sports (junior Will Dooris was also a member of both teams when the streaks were broken, but he played in neither game). And, Freedman points out, he wasn't involved in all of those 539 combined losses, and he suffered no personal anguish because of the extraordinary lengths of the streaks. "It's hard to process that many losses or that many seasons, even," he says, noting that the basketball streak had been around for longer than he's been alive. "I've only experienced the games I've been in. It's hard to comprehend the larger scale."

Despite athletics being his claim to fame, Freedman isn't just about sports—he's a Techer, after all. "As silly as it sounds, I'm not a huge sports fan," he says; he likes to play, of course, but he doesn't live and breathe sports. He enjoys mountain biking and has recently started rock climbing. He spent two summers at JPL, doing electrical and software testing for SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive), a satellite that will map the moisture of soil—and whether it's frozen—around the world. This past summer, he worked at Applied Minds in Glendale, California, an engineering consulting company.

During his senior year, he took a class on rocket propulsion, which sparked an interest in electric propulsion. Unlike conventional, chemical-based propulsion, in which spacecraft are propelled essentially by igniting controlled explosions, electric propulsion relies on ions that are accelerated by an electric field—a technology well suited for long-distance space travel. After graduation, Freedman will continue to advance his electric propulsion research as he pursues his master's in aerospace at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Written by Marcus Woo